40th Anniversary of the death of John D. Rockefeller III – 10/07/1978
Death of John D. Rockefeller III, American philanthropist. Chairman of the Rockefeller Foundation. He helped found the Asia Society and bequeathed his Oriental art collection to it. He also led the fundraising for the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in New York City.
A Great Philanthropist
The 40th anniversary of the death of John D. Rockefeller III falls on 10 July 2018, marking the passing of one of history’s great philanthropists. A third generation member of the fabulous Rockefeller family, he inherited massive wealth from the family estate, but just like his father and grandfather, used it wisely and productively, and through his generosity and business acumen provided tremendous assistance in the alleviation of human suffering around the world.
A mansion is born
He spent part of his life in the Rockefeller family mansion, “Kykuit” (a Dutch word meaning lookout), as did his father and grandfather before him, and indeed the planning and construction of this fabulous residence is as fascinating a tale as that of the Rockefellers themselves. The story has everything – family disagreements, huge budget overruns, attempted extortion from the “Black Hand” and even a murder involving a member of the labour force working on the estate.
When finally completed “Kykuit” was instantly recognised as one of the most important American houses, and it was once described as the house that God would have built – if only he had the money.
The foundation of the immense wealth of the Rockefellers was established by John D. Rockefeller Sr. who arose from humble beginnings to create the Standard Oil Company and by the early years of the 20th Century he had become the wealthiest man in the United States.
He decided to build a family home in New York, and construction was completed in 1908, but was hamstrung through a great deal of internal conflict. There was considerable disagreement between Rockefeller and his son, John D. Jr, together with other designers and a team of young and inexperienced architects responsible for the build.
The result was a deeply flawed structure that was found to contain many faults.
Incredibly it was decided to do a rebuild, containing some of the original but virtually gutting the existing structure and
adding another two floors together with an entirely new roof design.
Arrival of the Black Hand
Massive earthworks were required for the new gardens and in 1912 Italian labourers from the nearby Kensico Dam were employed on the job, unwittingly introducing the “Black Hand” into the Rockefeller estate. This was the forerunner of the Mafia and operated by using extortion throughout the Italian labour workforce.
A labourer on the grounds of was shot dead, followed by a direct threat made against the Rockefellers. The Black Hand demanded a large payment or else death and destruction would be bought to “Kykuit”. It has never been revealed if the Rockefellers paid the extortion demand but in any event the construction continued.
The finished product
Finally completed in 1913, the mansion was an incredible structure, with the grounds containing spacious expanses of lawns, immaculate gardens, spectacular fountains and statuary.
However it was considerably simpler and less grandiose on the inside – the result of the more conservative and austere tastes of John Rockefeller Sr. compared to those of his son, John D. Jr.
“Kykuit” was home to further generations of the Rockefellers over the following decades and in 1979 Nelson Rockefeller bequeathed his one-third interest in the estate to the US National Trust for historic preservation.
By: R. Whitaker
Image: John D. Rockefeller in 1885, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.